'Sugar Man' Singer Rodriguez Holds Down Los Angeles Gig

Rodriguez performs during the Saquatch! Music Festival at the Gorge Amphitheater on May 25, 2014 in George, Washington.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

The unfathomable story line of the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” which culminates with a series of South Africa arena concerts in 1998, appears to be playing out in similar fashion in the United States. Two years after “Sugar Man's” subject, Sixto Rodriguez, was playing solo sets in tiny venues such as the Hotel Cafe, he headlined the Greek Theater on May 30 and received a hero's welcome from the nearly 5,000 fans in attendance.

While his 65 minute show had its rough spots, the 71-year-old Rodriguez displayed a consistency in his vocals and guitar playing, warmly wrapping his voice around songs popularized in the film - “Crucify Your Mind,” “The Establishment Blues,” “I Wonder” and, of course, “Sugar Man.” The 18-song show included songs he has passed over on previous tours, particularly the lushly arranged songs on his second album, “Coming From Reality.” The ballad “To Whom It May Concern” was particularly affecting as a mid-set change of pace.

The Detroit native's short-lived career in the U.S. ran from the late 1960s until about 1973 after his two albums for Sussex Records went nowhere and he was dropped from the label best known for Bill Withers' music. Light in the Attic reissued the albums six years ago and Rodriguez's name floated around indie rock circles, where he was touted as an overlooked street-savvy singer-songwriter who occupied a unique space between Bob Dylan, Donovan and Marvin Gaye.

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“Searching for Sugar Man,” which the singer did not reference during the concert, put Rodriguez on the road while the film was playing festivals and in theaters in the summer of 2012, propelling his career in a way no artist had ever seen. Unlike previous shows in Los Angeles, he had no guitar troubles at the Greek. Rodriguez was able hit every note he attempted and his pacing was as good as one would expect from an artist who uses a set list as a guideline and not a strict running order. His three-piece band has clearly learned his repertoire from the records.

Rodriguez has not presented any new material in his shows, preferring to cover Carl Perkins' “Blue Suede Shoes,” Little Richard's “Lucille,” “Learnin the Blues” from the 1950s and Little Willie John/Peggy Lee hit “Fever.” The rockers were the shakiest moments of the show; “Fever” and “Birth” allowed him to display his ability to swing as a guitarist.

Curiously, Warner Bros. new singer LP opened the show with a short set of songs from her forthcoming release “Forever For Now” (June 3). A singer of astounding vocal range and character, LP delivered bare bones versions of her album's songs, playing with guitarist-keyboardist and drummer while she accompanied herself on ukelele. She may well have won some new fans with her better songs, among them the first single “Night Like This,” “Tokyo Sunrise” and “Into the Wild.”

Here's the set list from Rodriguez's performance:

“Climb Up on My Music”
“This is Not a Song, It’s and Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues”
“I Wonder”
“Love Me or Leave Me”
“Only Good For Conversation”
“Crucify Your Mind”
“Sugar Man”
“Inner City Blues”
“To Whom It May Concern”
“Blue Suede Shoes”
“Rich Folks Hoax”
“Like Janis”
“Learnin’ the Blues”
“You’d Like to Admit It”
“Forget It”
“I’m Gonna Live Till I Die”